Media outlets face challenges in sourcing a diverse range of experts—how can PR help?

by | Jan 7, 2020 | Public Relations

It’s a challenging time for journalists, as media distrust remains a pressing problem thanks to the increasing prevalence of fake news, the uncompromising positions of news consumers, and the unreliable state of online and social “news” sites and sources. Compounding the situation is that time-strapped reporters don’t have the opportunity (or, often, the resources) to properly vet sources they find online. PR pros, obviously, can’t solve the problem entirely—but they can certainly boost their reliability, and the value of their firms, by helping their media partners secure trustworthy expert sources.

A recent survey of media professionals from ExpertFile, in conjunction with The Associated Press, reveals important insights into how newsrooms discover and connect with experts. The research suggests that sourcing experts remains a time-consuming process. In addition, journalists admit there remains a significant gap in representing a more diverse set of experts in their coverage.

ExpertFile’s newly released Expert Sources Survey reflects the opinions of over 750 media professionals (journalists, editors, producers and more) responsible for securing expert sources for interviews or comment.

Media outlets face challenges in sourcing a diverse range of experts—how can PR help?

The research reveals that the process of discovering and securing expert sources in newsrooms to help develop stories needs to evolve further to help meet the demands placed on journalists today.

“Expert sources are critical to the reporting process. The need for credible experts that reflect diversity has never been more important for newsrooms,” said Dwayne Desaulniers, AP’s director of corporate news and data services, in a news release.

Media outlets face challenges in sourcing a diverse range of experts—how can PR help?

“This research clearly reveals the challenges journalists face in newsrooms. While we have seen many new technology advances in newsrooms, the process of discovering, vetting and connecting with a diverse set of media sources remains a tedious process,” said Peter Evans, CEO of ExpertFile, in the release. “Having access to a large, searchable network of credible experts who will respond to tight deadlines is becoming increasingly critical for journalists.”

Media outlets face challenges in sourcing a diverse range of experts—how can PR help?

Highlights of the research:

Sourcing experts is a time-consuming process for newsrooms

On average, it takes a journalist 2 hours to secure an expert for an interview. PR pros can help to save reporters valuable time by providing potential sources, with background info, topic expertise, previous coverage links, and reliable contact info. They can also stress to their clients the importance of including expert sources in their online newsrooms.

Searching for experts often starts with Google, but remains a cumbersome process

Google is still a primary starting point for finding experts, with 55 percent of journalists and other media professionals in newsrooms stating they use Google as a primary starting point. By including sources in their initial pitches, and referring media to source directories in clients’ media newsrooms, PR pros can help reporters eschew these wild goose searches, or at least help direct the search process.

Despite a need for diverse voices, many journalists rely on the usual suspects

While there is increasing pressure to represent a diverse set of voices in their coverage, most journalists (67 percent) are forced to rely heavily on their own personal contacts. Again, PR pros can save reporters time by emphasizing the unique opinions, contrarian viewpoints or other elements of diversity inherent in their source recommendations, relative to the nature of the news or pitch.

Media outlets face challenges in sourcing a diverse range of experts—how can PR help?

Video is a major determining factor in who gets media coverage

For three-quarters (76 percent) of broadcast and cable media professionals, access to video assets is an important factor in choosing an expert source.  It appears that being able to articulate one’s expertise is as important as the expert’s credentials. The tip for PR is clear here—including multimedia in a pitch, particularly vetted commentary from expert sources, will always increase your chances of success.

Media outlets face challenges in sourcing a diverse range of experts—how can PR help?

Expert databases are seen as valuable by journalists—but they are not widely available in newsrooms

The study revealed that the majority of news organizations lack a useful internal database to find experts. It’s imperative for PR pros to help media circumvent this problem by following all the tips above and letting reporters know about experts available to complement a story pitch. Becoming a valuable resource—even when coverage isn’t a main goal—goes a long way toward establishing relationships with media that are almost certain to pay off in the long run.

Download the full report here.

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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